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Michael: What's so fucking funny?
Harold: Life. Life's a goddamn laugh riot.
Michael, a gay recovering alcoholic, along with friend and sometime lover Donald, is throwing a party for his buddy Harold's 32nd birthday. The guests include flaming queen Emory and his best friend Bernard, seemingly straight schoolteacher Hank and his monogamy-impaired lover Larry, and "Cowboy", Emory's gift for the guest of honor. However, their fun is cut short by the arrival of an unexpected party guest - Alan, Michael's questionably heterosexual college chum. This, along with Michael falling Off the Wagon, leads to a night of soul-searching and all of the guests being forced to confront the most uncomfortable aspects of themselves.
The Boys in the Band is an off-Broadway play written by Mart Crowley which premiered in 1968. It was faithfully adapted into a film (starring the original stage cast) by William Friedkin in 1970. When it first opened, it was notable for the being first mainstream play (and film) to treat homosexuality in a direct and realistic way rather than cloaking it in subtext or portraying the characters as freaks. Furthermore, to quote Vito Russo, "The internalized guilt of eight gay men at a Manhattan birthday party formed the best and most potent argument for gay liberation ever offered in a popular art form."
As it turned out, it was gay liberation itself that made The Boys In The Band go from being groundbreaking and revolutionary to a being a nasty relic of the Bad Old Days™ in the near instant, thanks to its bad timing. While the play was released in 1968, the Stonewall Riots occured in 1969 - and the film had the bad sense to be released in 1970 during the height of gay liberation. For years, it was often demonized as being not only dated, but flagrantly offensive. Over time, however, it's been re-vindicated by history, with more and more people recognizing it as a classic, eventually leading to a stage revival in 1996 and a long overdue DVD release in 2008.
Despite its reputation for being a "period piece", most of the issues addressed (internalized homophobia, effemiphobia, etc.) remain relevant to this day, and the characters seems as real as they were 40 years ago. Plus, it's hilarious, endlessly quotable, and genuinely poignant, if not always easy viewing. Check it out if you get a chance.
- Always Camp: Emory is an interior decorator and Harold's a former figure skater.
- Ambiguously Gay: Alan, although he says that he's straight.
- Author Avatar: Michael is Mart Crowley's self-admitted Author Avatar. All of the characters represent Crowley, according to an interview.
- Berserk Button: Let's just say that Alan doesn't like Emory's "kind of talk."
- Brainless Beauty: Cowboy
- Breakfast Club
- Bury Your Gays: "It's not always the way it is in plays. Not all faggots bump themselves off at the end of the story!"
- Camp Gay: Most of the characters to varying degrees, but especially Emory. Done in a "laughing with" way rather than the usual "laughing at", and the characters are treated as people instead simple caricatures.
- Cast Full of Gay: Both the characters and most of the actors. Ironically, the most flaming queen, Emory, was played by straight actor Cliff Gorman.
- Chewing the Scenery: Michael has quite the craving for scenery.
- Coming Out Story: Hank, who's in the process of divorcing his wife to be with Larry.
- Darkest Hour: Most of the second half.
- Deadpan Snarker: Harold. Extra emphasis on the "snarker" part.
- Michael also is an artist at "the read", but Harold out-snarks him.
- Dramedy: With quite a bit of Mood Whiplash between the comedic and dramatic aspects.
- Dysfunction Junction
- Establishing Character Moment: Harold has quite the memorable entrance.
- The European Carry All: "Notice nowhere is it called hair spray -- just simply, 'Control.' And the words 'For Men' are written about thirty-seven times all over the goddamn can."
Donald: It's called "butch assurance".
- Five-Token Band: As noted by Pauline Kael, the characters are like a "40's movie bomber-crew."
- Gayngst: By the truckload.
- Hidden Depths: "I may be nelly, Michael, but I'm no coward."
- In Vino Veritas: Michael's one nasty, self-loathing drunk.
Harold: (on Michael) Beware the hostile fag. When he's sober, he's dangerous. When he drinks, he's lethal.
- Jade-Colored Glasses. Harold, though he literally wears purple glasses.
- Literary Allusion Title: The title comes from A Star Is Born.
- Love Hurts
- Mood Whiplash
- Not That There's Anything Wrong with That: Alan's unconvincing attempt to tell Michael that he has nothing against homosexuality.
- Of course, the theory that Alan is a closet queen adds an interesting subtext.
- Off the Wagon. Michael has stopped drinking for five weeks, to prevent anxiety attacks, but falls off the wagon - hard - during Harold's birthday party.
- Parallel Porn Titles: Boys in the Sand, a landmark gay porn film.
- Parlor Games: Michael pressures the guests into a playing a game which involves calling the one person they truly believe they've loved and telling them how they feel. This does not go down well.
- Real Time
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
Harold: Now it's my turn, and ready or not, Michael, here goes: you're a sad and pathetic man. You're a homosexual and you don't want to be, but there's nothing you can do to change it. Not all the prayers to your God, not all the analysis you can buy, in all the years you've go left to live. You may one day be able to know a heterosexual life - if you want it desperately enough, if you pursue it with the fervor with which you annihilate. But you'll always be homosexual as well. Always Michael. Always. Until the day you die.
- Recycled in Space. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? WITH GAYS!
- Schiff One-Liner: "As my father said to me when he died in my arms, 'I don't understand any of it. I never did.'"
- The Sixties
- The Stoner: Harold. "What I am, Michael, is a 32 year-old, ugly, pockmarked Jew fairy, and if it takes me a little while to pull myself together, and if I smoke a little grass before I get up the nerve to show my face to the world, it's nobody's goddamned business but my own. And how are you this evening?"
- Token Minority: Bernard
- The sequel The Men From the Boys adds an Asian named Rick.
- Unusual Euphemism: Michael refers to anxiety attacks as "icks".
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Michael and Harold. While it isn't clear they are best friends, two moments reveal their deep relationship: Michael's gift to Harold, and Harold's quiet assurance after giving him the above "The Reason You Suck" Speech "I'll call you tomorrow."
- Emory and Bernard are a type two example.
- Village Bicycle: Larry, much to Hank's frustration.
- Volleying Insults
- Where Da White Women At?: A variant of this is done with Bernard, a gay black man in love with a wealthy, straight white man that his family worked for.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The question of whether Alan is straight or closeted, and what he was sobbing about when he called Michael early in the film is never answered - deliberately.
- With Friends Like These...